South African Rugby
De Villiers maintains absentees are injured
ESPNscrum Staff
July 27, 2011
Springboks lock Victor Matfield talks to the media, South Africa press conference, Sun Square Hotel, Fourways, South Africa, August 17, 2010
Victor Matfield is one of the players who is sitting out the away legs of the Tri-Nations © Getty Images

Springboks boss Peter de Villiers has dismissed reports that the 21 rugby players left at home for the away legs of the Tri-Nations have been secretly training rather than recovering from injury.

A South African media report suggested the players who were not in New Zealand for Saturday's test against the All Blacks were with technical director Rassie Erasmus at a training camp in Rustenburg despite missing the trip due to "medical reasons". But De Villiers told reporters who greeted the South Africans on their arrival in Wellington this afternoon that he was surprised when told that players had been training.

"It's the first time I've heard that. I'm surprised now," de Villiers said before being asked if he could confirm that his "so-called" injured players were not in a training camp.

"So-called is not the right word to use. They're injured players back in South Africa and there's a few guys going back today too who are also injured. They are not training at the moment." De Villiers was not surprised by suggestions the injured players were in fact training replying that "there's mischief every week."

Captain John Smit sidestepped questions on the issue. "I can't confirm that, no. I wouldn't have a clue, you'd have to be in South Africa to see what's going on, surely," Smit said.

De Villiers said they would check on the fitness of the players left back in South Africa on their arrival home next week at a "medical scanning camp" to determine whether they would play a role in the two Tri-Nations matches in the Republic next month. The controversial coach, who was criticised by former hooker Ollie le Roux after his inexperienced side lost 39-20 to the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday, said he still valued the Tri-Nations despite not bringing their top side to Australia and New Zealand.

"I don't see anything wrong with it, it's just that the expansion of the Super Rugby this year made it a bit awkward," De Villiers said. "We're a proud nation; every test is a very important test for us."

Smit, who Le Roux said should not be going to the World Cup, let alone be captain, said the Tri-Nations was a perfect preparation for their defence of the Webb Ellis Cup and he defended playing in a World Cup year.

"Whether we had it or not, we certainly would have had to play some games any way going into the World Cup," Smit said. "It's now an opportunity to play against the two best teams in the world and have a chance to see where you're at with what you've got left," said the 33-year-old.

Smit, whose international and Super Rugby form has been the subject of intense scrutiny in his homeland, said the weakened Springboks had to lift themselves after their performance against Australia.

"It's still a Bok team, still the same jersey. I wanted us to be a little bit more competitive last week. I had high expectations but we got some simple things wrong. Hopefully we've fixed those things ... and we can pose a bigger threat this weekend."

But Smit, who admitted it was unlikely anyone would remember who won the Tri-Nations this year, said without some their key players it was difficult for his young side against the All Blacks. "We're here to play and win every single test match we play in. Sometimes you don't get to choose your cards, you've just got to play the hand you've been dealt."

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